Shortly after releasing a critically acclaimed debut album -- 1998's 2000 Fold, on the Dust Brothers' imprint, Ideal -- a couple of left-coast emcees, Ryu and Tak, and their turntablist/producer, DJ Cheapshot, single-handedly created a deafening buzz in the underground, only to quietly disband early last year. After a brief sabbatical, the resurgent, L.A.-based hip-hop combo Styles of Beyond has returned with a slammin' followup (on Cheapshot's Spy Tech label) and a score to settle.
The cover of Megadef looks like a snapshot inadvertently taken by a camera dangling off the shoulder of a CSI photographer at the site of a grisly homicide. The table is littered with still-burning cigarette butts and freshly cut lines of coke, and it's splattered with buckets of blood, Jackson Pollock style. Judging from the blistering lyrics on the title track ("You got the whole world hooked on some wanker pills, bitch/Shoot to kill, my nukes are too clean/If you only knew what they do to MCs"), the image is the virtual remnant of a surprise attack perpetrated by a pair of self-exiled MCs with a "Killer Instinct" who returned to the spot to blast all the wack MCs.
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The album's intro sounds like an overheard conversation between investigators as they're trying to figure out what the hell has happened. An echoing female voice proclaims, "Nearly all of these murderers are males, many of them handsome, charismatic, intelligent. They begin to kill in their twenties or early thirties," while a male voice opines, "I think we're all expecting these killers to be frothing-at-the-mouth maniacs. The scary thing is, it's the seemingly normal people that commit these crimes."
Indeed, ordinary folks do commit extraordinary acts -- like dropping seamless, classic albums that are only appreciated by a minority, for instance. Now, that's a horrific crime. Whereas Fold pushed hip-hop's limits and had an element of experimentalism, Megadef is a more straightforward and menacing affair. Lyrically, Ryu and Tak sport ski masks and pack crowbars as they indict antagonists like the club owners who expect them to play benefit shows for a fraction of their till with this GoodFellas-like quatrain: "If the club burned down, motherfuck you pay me/Ten bucks at thirty thou, fuck you pay me/Listen, you want it free I don't agree I'm not a rookie now/So fuck your benefit show if you're getting thirty thou" (from "Pay Me"). With a Neptunes-esque groove and rapid-fire flow, this is easily the strongest cut on the disc.
With the exception of a few sonic missteps ("Mr. Brown" and "Eurobiks") that interrupt the otherwise aural continuity of the record, this is, bar none, the year's finest, most cohesive slab of wax. From the album's cover -- the parody on the Metallica logo and the Megadeth name -- you'd think this would be some hard-hittin' shit on the hip-hop tip, yet another status-quo mesh of metal and rap by some Durst-styled ass clowns. But it's not. Make no mistake: There's plenty of guitar work on the album and rhymes galore, but the cadence has a vintage, throwback flavor, and the guitar tone is as primitive as the riffs, which sound like they were played through a $20 cigarette amp.
So unless those CSI cats pick up a copy of Megadef or talk to the heads in the underground who know what's really going on, they may as well add this to the unsolved file and keep scratchin' their heads. You can't solve a case without any witnesses, and these SOBs make sure no one is left standing.